So you joined Facebook a few years back and like me, you loved the potential for networking and finding like minded people with shared interests right?
Then, like me you started to fall off the wagon as you saw all the negativity and you considered closing your account on multiple occasions. Maybe like me, you still like the good parts of being on Facebook but struggle with all the nastiness, the bickering and the general confusion right?
I’m still a fan of the site though, I know it’s a great big data mine but I enjoy the features and the shareable content (most of it anyway) so I have evolved in my use of Facebook by using it’s own tools to make the experience enjoyable not just for me but hopefully for my online friends too.
My late Mother sent me a Facebook invite back in 2009. I signed up and was immediately impressed by the ability to share links and to make connections with old friends. In fact, thanks to Facebook I was able to meet some of my old college friends in person again and keep in touch online.
I made a lot of Facebook friends through my time spent at an online youth radio station, despite always feeling like an awkward dinosaur compared to my younger colleagues at the station I have fond memories of being there. I miss my fellow broadcasters and still think the world of them to this day. Although sadly, the station is no more, it did open up for me the scope of what can be done on Facebook through networking and setting up pages to promote our content.
I now write for blogs and still interact with awesome thinkers and artists on a daily basis. I have been able to take part in initiatives about things I care deeply about. Best of all, working along side my Facebook friends in these projects has restored my faith in humanity but after a while I did start to experience some more negative interaction and I knew I had to do something about it.
The thing about me and social media is I’ve always worn my heart on my sleeve in real life and inevitably that transferred to my virtual world. I’ve never really been a funny cat video or lunch photos kinda Facebook user (although I’m very fond of cats and even fonder of food!).
I’m prone to write my thoughts on ‘politics’, ‘current affairs’ and the world at large and this has got me into all kinds of heated online debates sometimes ending in removing people or blocking them or being removed or blocked myself.
I have tried to solve these recurring issues of conflict using privacy settings but here’s the thing, Facebook and the internet in general has affected the way we think and in the absence of face to face communication what we write and our actions can be grossly misinterpreted leading to unnecessary confrontations and fall outs.
I admit that I have been very reactionary myself leaving angry comments on posts I find disagreeable or posting in response to something that aggrieved me on a personal level or getting in heated online debates. Nowadays when I scroll through my newsfeed and find things I disagree with or on the rare occasion I get an angry private message I try to understand what’s going on and engage in the best way possible. We all make mistakes but our very human mistakes somehow seem ten times worse on social media.
I have seen a worrying trend towards over simplification in the style of content on Facebook. This might be down to smartphones gradually replacing PCs but I fear it’s more than just that. There is a visible dumbing down effect via images or ‘memes’ ranging from the humorous to outright lies and hate filled rhetoric. I’ve seen the rise of a far right group who have little presence in the real world but have amassed a following in the tens of thousands on Facebook through nothing more than images, images that contain false and misleading text. I recall trying to engage the followers of this page in a peaceful and sensible debate, I was quickly blocked from the page of course. As for the pages’ comment threads, they are a mixture of paranoid conspiratorial nonsense and sickening calls for extreme violence full of typos.
Pages are one thing but lets say you have added someone as a friend because you have a mutual interest only to find out they are posting these very hate filled images? In my case you may ruminate over the best way to deal with it or go into reactionary mode as mentioned earlier. In the end I found a solution in the ‘unfollow’ option that allows you to remain ‘friends’ with someone but hides their posts from you.
Another solution I discovered was to place certain people on your ‘restricted access’ list and only set posts I’m happy with everyone to see to public. Nothing is entirely foolproof though as it all relies on mutual trust and understanding, something which can easily be broken and often is.
What I have come to understand is that although many of us claim to believe in ‘free speech’ we are quick to shut people down not for being wrong but simply because we don’t like what they say. After all we see politicians do it on television not to mention the presenters themselves so perhaps that legitimises doing so in our eyes.
But seeing as I clearly disapprove of such actions, I intend to the best of my abilities not to copy them. I’ve began to study concepts like Non Violent Communication and aspects of what is refereed to as ‘mindfulness’. In practice this means that when I come across a post or image which I deem racist or unjust I can either scroll on, hide that post or hide that persons posts, maybe even unfollow them without unfriending or blocking; or I can attempt to open a bit of dialogue by asking something like ‘what makes you say that?’ and see where it goes. If no real benefit comes from it, I can simply disengage from the conversation. I am learning to move away from the idea that ‘this is my account and I can do/say what I want’ actually there are people reading my posts and if I’m engaged in a nasty exchange of words it can ruin someone else’s’ day just reading that angry comment thread.
The truth is our online world reflects our real life world. When bad things happen online it affects us just the way it affects us in face to face situations or as a stander by. I don’t want my contribution to social media to be negative. That’s a tricky thing to balance when I still desire to speak out against the social injustices I see or share opinions and thoughts I believe can benefit others.
My way round this is to have a number of specific lists ensuring certain friends see some posts and others don’t. This can be done by going to your friend list and hovering over each individual friend button to reveal a drop down menu where you can add them to existing lists or make new ones After all we can have vastly different outlooks on life but there is no good in fighting over it, there’s enough of that going on already.
One last thing I wanted to quickly mention is I often friend/follow people to keep up to date with the work they do I.e. something awesome they do which I’m really into but I later realise their personal page is just that, it’s personal and the posts appearing on my newsfeed aren’t really meant for me. It’s possible they accepted my friend request out of politeness or not wishing to have to deal with another tantrum from some ‘random’ who doesn’t get why this person doesn’t actually want to talk to them (could be the fact they don’t know you!!!)
The general rule I have learned is if this person has a fan page, stick with that, all the important updates will be on there whereas their personal page posts are most likely aimed at family and close friends. I go by the principle of do unto others as you do unto yourself and I never share deep intimate stuff online nor do I wish to learn such things about others.
Lastly, I would like to say that Facebook haven’t paid me to share these thoughts with you. This isn’t a endorsement in any way rather I wanted to reach out to people like me who enjoy using the site. I do believe the developers deserve credit for making it so user friendly. With a few tweaks here and there you can essentially see exactly what you want to see, even the ads that appear have a drop down menu where you can specify whether they are relevant to you or not so all is good, I can be still loud and shouty about my politics and others can share their food snapshots and cat vids and all is well!!!!